The Empire and the century/The States of India



There is a tendency among visitors to India to regard Native States with a certain amount of curiosity, as places that should be seen, because they differ so much from other parts of India in that they are more picturesque—more 'truly Eastern' as the saying goes—and because, perhaps, they contain more of that barbaric splendour which is fast dying out of the larger towns and districts of British provinces. But few consider the constitution of these States, the facts connected with their ancient history, and the manner in which, during the past hundred years, they have slowly and surely been welded into the Empire. The Rajas are, to the globe-trotter, mysterious personages hedged about with dignity and pomp, which appear to the uninitiated grotesque and unintelligible, and they receive from their officials and subjects an old-world homage and reverence such as is not met with in any other part of the British Empire. That the Rajas are courtly in their manners and profuse in their hospitality adds an additional glamour; but what their real status is, and to what extent they are influenced by those English officers who are styled Agents to the Governor-General, or Residents, or Political Agents, passes the comprehension of the casual visitor, who, after seeing what there is to be seen in any particular State, having visited the city with its palaces (ruined or modern), its mosques, or temples, and having purchased some curiosities of art or manufacture, having ridden on an elephant, or even shot a tiger or stuck a pig, goes away delighted with his visit, but more than ever mystified as to what it all means, and how it comes about that such an institution as a Native State, or such an anomaly as a ruling Chief with his court, and his nobles, and his army, and his officials, and his subjects, and all the paraphernalia of Oriental sway, can possibly exist in the India of the twentieth century, and within from fifteen to twenty days* journey from Charing Cross. And yet there is no reason why anyone should be amazed; the history of feudatory'[1] India is no sealed book, and it is only because the fact is lost sight of in the general impression that India is the greatest dependency of the Crown of England, that those who come out in yearly increasing numbers to see India forget that the Native States are an integral part of the Empire, and that they are an important feature in its constitution and its strength. The States cover an area of 688,462 square miles, or about one-third of the whole of India: they contain nearly 68,000,000 subjects, or about one-fourth of the total Indian population, and yield to the Chiefs gross receipts of more than £18,000,000, or about one-sixth of the revenues of British India. There are in all some 600 States, but of these about 500 are insignificant in size and status; many of them are tributary to the larger principalities, while others are held under guarantee or direct from the British Government. It is proposed to deal with those States which are under treaty, or in alliance with the Empire, and with those Chiefs who are entitled to receive salutes—varying from twenty-one guns, as the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Maharajas of Mysore and Baroda, to nine guns, as some of the Rajas of Central India and Kathiawar.

There is much difference in the origin of the various principalities. The great States of Bajputana—viz., Udaipur, Jaipur, and Jodhpur, the representatives respectively of the Sisodia, Kachwaha, and Rahtor clans, are of immemorial antiquity, tracing their lineage back to mythical legends. To these families belong also the Rajput States of Bikanir (Rahtor), Rewah (Baghel), Rutlam (Rahtor), Sitamau (Rahtor), Jhalawar (Jhala), and Kota (Hara), and many tributaries scattered over Rajputana, Central India, and Kathiawar, with a few such as Mandi, Sirmur, Chamba, and Suket, in the Punjab.

The Mahratta States, Baroda, Gwalior, Indore, and Kolhapur, are held by descendants of Mahratta leaders under Shivaji and the Peishwa. They date from the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the Mahratta power began to wane, and when the Chiefs of these States, throwing off their allegiance to the Mahratta union, after various conflicts with the Mogul Empire and the growing power of the British, were glad to come under the protection of the East India Company, and to enter into the treaties offered to them by Sir John Malcolm in Central India, and by Elphinstone in the Deccan and Gujerat

The Nizam of Hyderabad, the premier Chief in India, ruling a territory 80,000 square miles in area, with a population of 11,000,000, and a revenue of about £2,500,000, is the descendant of a Turkoman noble named Chin Killich Khan (Asaf Jah), who was appointed by the Emperor of Delhi, in A.D. 1718, as Viceroy of the Deccan, with the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk. After the death of the Emperor Aurungzeb, Asaf Jah asserted his independence, and held as his own the greater part of the territory which had been assigned to his charge as the delegate of the Great Mogul. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, after the battle of Assaye, when the Duke of Wellington (then Sir Arthur Wellesley) finally broke the Mahratta power which was threatening Hyderabad, the Nizam made a treaty of alliance with the British Government; and a Resident was appointed to his Court to negotiate terms which provided for the protection of the Hyderabad dominions, and the cession of certain districts which had been allotted to the Nizam after the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799, the revenues of which were assigned for the maintenance of the British troops garrisoned at Hyderabad. The present Nizam—Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., is the fourth in descent from the founder of the dynasty in the Deccan. His Highness was invested with ruling power on attaining his majority in 1885. During his minority Hyderabad was wisely administered by Sir Salar Jung, who initiated a form of government which was most beneficial to his State.

The Maharaja of Mysore is the ruler of a State in southern India of a total area of 80,000 square miles, containing a population of 5,500,000, and yielding a revenue of about £1,500,000. It is an ancient Hindu dynasty which has undergone strange vicissitudes. The State was conquered and usurped during the eighteenth century by Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. After the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799, when Tipu was killed and his family taken prisoners by Sir Arthur Wellesley, Mysore was restored by the East India Company to the ancient line, and Krishna Raj, a descendant of the ruling family, was installed as Maharaja. This Chief was guilty of so many acts of misrule that the British Government were compelled, in 1881, to resume the administration of the State, which was, however, carried on in the name of Krishna Raj, at whose death, in 1881, an adopted son was recognised as successor. Fifty years of British administration restored Mysore to more than its previous prosperity, and when the State was made over to the young Chief on attaining his majority in 1887, he entered into an agreement to abide by the form of government which had been so long enforced, to respect all laws and regulations passed by that Government, and to act in conformity with the advice of his Resident in all important matters. The Maharaja, who was an enlightened and well-educated Prince of great promise, died in 1895, and was succeeded by his son, the present Maharaja, during whose minority the State was administered with great ability by the Dewan Sir Shishadri Ayer. In 1902 the young Chief was duly invested with ruling powers.

The beautiful country of Kashmir, extending over 80,000 square miles, and containing a population of about 8,000,000, is ruled by His Highness the Maharaja Pratab Singh, G.C.S.I. In 1586 Kashmir was a part of the Mogul Empire, and became the summer residence of Akbar and of some of his descendants. The State was subsequently conquered, first by the Afghans and afterwards by the Sikhs. During the Sikh War it was governed by Gulab Singh (a feudatory of the Maharaja of the Punjab), to whom, after the victory of the British armies, it was conferred as an independent State, under certain conditions of alliance, by a treaty signed at Lahore in 1846. The ruling family is Dogra (Hindu), but at least three-fourths of the population of Kashmir are Mohammedan. The State includes the provinces of Jammu and Punch, and the subordinate and tributary chiefships of Chitral, Hanza, Nagar, etc., and the governorship of Ladakh and Gilgit. The revenue of Kashmir is about £450,000. The importance of the State is emphasized by its position on the frontier of India, bordering Tibet on the east, the debatable boundary with Russia on the Pamirs on the north, and Afghanistan on the west.

It would be wearisome to recount in detail our relations with all the minor States of the Punjab, Central India (including Bandelkhand, Baghelkhand, and Malwa), and the peninsula of Kathiawar in Bombay, or the Madras States of Travancore, Cochin, and Vizianagram. It may be sufficient to note that the relations between the Government of India and Native States are governed by treaties and engagements, varying in their conditions in accordance with the size and importance of each State, and the circumstances under which it came into contact with British power. Generally speaking, the position of all Native States is one of subordinate cooperation, the Government undertaking to protect them and to acknowledge their independence on conditions of loyalty to the Crown of England, of good administration, and of due fulfilment of treaty obligations. Some of these treaties have in many respects become obsolete, owing to altered circumstances and to the disappearance of conditions, such as internal warfare and the aggressions of foreign Powers, which were the cause of the original agreements; but, although no treaties have been abrogated, as time has gone on the ties between the British Government and the protected Princes have been strengthened and drawn closer by a series of enactments dealing more directly with the rights of Empire, and emphasizing the policy of union and amalgamation of interests in all matters affecting the protection, the expansion, and the welfare of the States on the one part, and of the Government of India on the other. Thus, the larger principalities contribute towards the maintenance of troops, and provide land for cantonments and railways (admitting the right of jurisdiction of the paramount power in such areas), and facilitate the extension of roads, railways, and telegraphs constructed by the Imperial Government throughout their dominions. They engage not to enter into relations with any other State, to refer all disputes of an interstatal character to the adjudication of the British Government through their political officers, and to employ no Europeans in their service without the sanction of Government. They agree to the extradition of criminals, and acknowledge the right of the Government to try European British subjects who are charged with offences in their territories; and they cooperate in measures for the suppression of dakaiti (gang robbery) and other violent crimes. On the other hand, the Government of India agree to respect the rights of the States, not to interfere in their internal administration, so long as that is conducted with justice, and to protect them from external aggression. The integrity of each State is observed; and the right of succession is maintained, not only to direct heirs, but, on the failure of such heirs, by adoption in accordance with the rules which govern, by mutual consent, the exercise of this prerogative.

It will thus be seen that a system of imperium in imperio has been established, which, while it upholds the dignity of feudatory Chiefs, raises them to their legitimate position as Princes of the Empire; for in the days of the Mogul Empire, when the great Akbar essayed the task of conciliating the Rajput chiefs, his policy was to utilize their services, and to treat them as pillars of the State (Arkan-i-daulat).

The policy of the Government of India is identical in this respect with that of Akbar; but whereas the Mogul Emperor had only the Rajput Chiefs to deal with, the paramount power of England has during the last century taken under its protection a vast number of principalities in all parts of India, which survived the destruction of the dynasty of the Moguls, or escaped demolition by the Mahrattas, the Pindaris, and the Sikhs; while many have sprung into existence as the result of British victories and the establishment of British authority.

It has been said that Native States are a hundred years behind the rest of India in civilization. This may be true; but it is nevertheless the case that the subjects of these States prefer the despotism of their Chiefs to the laws and regulations under which British provinces are governed. Instances have been brought to light of chaotic misrule, grinding exactions, cruelty, and barbarism on the part of ruling Chiefs, borne with patience, almost with apathy, by their people, whose innate feeling of loyalty silenced complaint, and compelled them to endure vicissitudes which in British India would have speedily led to an outburst of popular demonstration. Fortunately, such cases are becoming rare. Chiefs are learning that good administration is one of the conditions on which they hold their States, and that the British Government will not tolerate misrule.

The future of Native States lies entirely in the hands of their rulers. A retrospect of close upon a century gives remarkable evidence of their capacity for improvement, and of a surrender of many of those old-fashioned ideas which so long impeded progress and development. It must be borne in mind that a new generation of Chiefs has come into existence—men who have received careful education and training, and who have not been slow to profit thereby. The old traditions exist, and in some places are cherished; but the general tendency of the native rulers of to-day is to emancipate themselves from the trammels of custom, and, without any severance of the bonds of caste or religion, to come forth as the leaders of thought and opinion in their States, and as the real rulers of their subjects. Great changes have occurred, and a flood of light has been brought into the darkest places by the expansion of education and the civilizing effects of improved communications, not only throughout India, but with the world. There is hardly a State in India that has not realized the benefits of the extension of railways, telegraphs, and post-offices. Many Chiefs—notably the Nizam, Scindia, Mysore, Baroda, Bhopal, and Holkar—are interested in lines of railway in their own territories, and participate in the profits accruing therefrom. The Imperial telegraph and postal systems traverse every State, irrigation and public works have been generally adopted, and of recent years the Chiefs of India, with but one or two exceptions, have relinquished their right of coinage and nave adopted the currency of British India. These and many other measures all tend towards unification with the Empire, and emphasize the position of subordinate cooperation, which is the true basis of the welfare—it may be said the existence—of the States of the Empire.

It cannot be doubted that as time goes on the obligations and responsibilities of the rulers will increase, and that the standard of administration will be raised; but it is clearly one of the most important duties of the Government of India to maintain the integrity of the States and to encourage the efforts of the Chiefs towards the attainment of efficiency. Sir John Malcolm, the first and probably the greatest of the representatives of the paramount power in Native States, said in 1816: 'If we made all India into zillahs (British districts), it was not in the nature of things that our Empire should last fifty years; but if we could keep up a number of Native States without political power but as royal instruments, we should exist in India as long as our naval superiority in Europe was maintained.' And, forty years later. Lord Canning, writing of the transfer of India from the East India Company, said: 'The Crown of England stands with the unquestioned ruler and paramount power in all India, and is for the first time brought face to face with its feudatories. There is a reality in the suzerainty of the Sovereign of England which has never existed before, and which is not only felt, but eagerly acknowledged by the Chiefs.'

Thus it will be seen that the chief factor in our dealings with feudatory India is the sense of loyalty of the ruling Chiefs to the Crown of England. As is the Raja, so is the Raiyat, the people of Native States follow the lead of their rulers; and it is no exaggeration to state that there is more loyalty of the real kind in these States than in many parts of British India. It is a healthy sign of the times that spontaneous expressions of this loyalty are evoked when danger to the Empire is rumoured. It is not many years ago since Russia loomed largely on the frontiers of India. At first her designs on Central Asia and the Khanates, bordering on Afghanistan, caused a certain amount of uneasiness, perhaps even of distrust. The late Sir Henry Daly, one of the ablest of Indian political administrators of modern times, who held charge of the group of States, seventy-two in number, comprised within the Central India Agency, used to tell of a conversation with one of the great Mahratta Chiefs about the time of the Russian advance on Merv. He had deprecated the Maharaja's anxiety and his thirst for information as to what Russia was going to do. 'Was she going to attack India?' 'What side would the Amir of Afghanistan take?' 'Was England strong enough to repulse an attack?' 'What would be the result to Native States if Russia took India?' Sir Henry assured the Maharaja that there was no immediate cause for alarm, and pointed out that Native States enjoyed, under British protection, comfort and ease such as they had never known under any other regime. 'Yes,' said the Maharaja, 'that is true; but although a man is comfortable and easy when he is asleep, still he likes sometimes to turn over on the other side.'

Of recent years the Chiefs have spoken with no such uncertain voice. In 1886, after the Penjdeh incident, when war with Russia seemed to be imminent, His Highness the Nizam came forward with a spontaneous offer of pecuniary aid for the defence of the Empire; this was echoed by many other Chiefs, and, although the Government of India found themselves unable to accept money from the Chiefs, their willing tribute of assistance was taken in the form of a quota of troops for Imperial service. This organization, commenced by Lord Dufferin, has since been expanded, until at the present day the force, maintained by twenty-three States for Imperial defence, amounts to 16,000 men—divided into cavalry, infantry, and transport—trained, disciplined, armed, and ready to take their place with the King's Indian Army whenever and wherever their services are required. These troops have already been utilized in the wars on the Kashmir frontier, in the Tirah, and in China. The Maharajas of Gwalior, Bikanir, and Idar have gone on service with their troops, while many other ruling Chiefs have volunteered to take the field

The loyalty that stimulates the feudatory Princes and brings them into closer union with the Empire of India, permeates their States, and is shared by their nobles and subjects—but it does more than that: it sets an example to the whole of India. It counteracts in a large measure the efforts of those who would seek to stir up discontent, and it emphasizes in the most unmistakable manner the advantages of an Empire founded on the confidence of the many tribes, castes, and religions of India as a whole.

Yet it is impossible to overlook the fact that the loyalty of the Chiefs and people of India is based not only upon the justice and equity of the Government, but in a greater degree upon their attachment to the Throne of England. Viceroyalty is not clearly understood, and therefore, perhaps, not fully appreciated; it is regarded as merely one of the many dispensations of Providence. To the people of India the Government is more or less of a myth—they recognise the power, admit its wisdom, and admire its benevolence, but they cannot grasp its origin. They see Viceroys come and go, they wonder who they are, whence they came, and whither they disappear—they look beyond the representative of the King of England and yearn for the Majesty of the King himself.

The first manifestation of this sentiment was in 1875, when the King, as Prince of Wales, visited India. It was the first real outburst of loyalty that had spread over the land since India came under British rule. Those who were serving in India during that visit will never forget the enthusiasm of the people—'the humble millions,' as Lord Curzon recently called them—usually mute, inscrutable, and mysterious. The native Chiefs vied with each other to do honour to their future King; they flocked to meet him on his arrival at Calcutta, and those who were honoured by his visit to their States were lavish in their entertainment and profuse in their gifts. Their homage was real and sincere, but the people were no whit behind the Princes in their demonstrations—the crowded streets, the packed balconies, the eager desire to look upon the face of the great Queen's son, gave the strongest proof of the loyalty of all classes and of their joy and satisfaction.

The next great event was the Imperial Assemblage held by Lord Lytton on January 1, 1877, to announce the assumption by Her Majesty of the title of Empress of India. This was a pageant chiefly for the benefit of the ruling Chiefs so far as the assemblage at Delhi was concerned; but the proclamation was read on the appointed day at Presidency towns, at the headquarters of every district in British India, and at each of the Political Agencies, so that the knowledge that Queen Victoria was henceforth to be known as Empress of India (Kaisar-i-Hind) was widely and simultaneously diffused throughout the length and breadth of India. The announcement did not stir up much enthusiasm for the simple reason that the Queen's sovereignty over India was already acknowledged; and it was difficult to explain the necessity of superadding the title of Empress to that of Queen. Victoria was the name by which Her Majesty was known and loved by her Indian subjects, and to them this was sufficient and required no Imperial designation.

The Queen's death caused an outburst of grief unprecedented in the annals of Indian history, the mourning was spontaneous, sincere, and general; there was not a town, not a village that did not exhibit signs of woe for the national loss. The feeling of sorrow was stupendous, and bore the most fervent and eloquent testimony to the loyalty of India and the love of the people for the great Queen and Mother. It was a loss brought to the homes and the hearts of all, from the ruling chief in his palace to the humble tiller of the soil in his field; and even those who knew the people best and loved them most were astounded by the display of general, humble, unpretentious, but nevertheless whole-hearted, sorrow.

There followed the succession of King Edward VII. as Emperor of India, the deferred Coronation, and His Majesty's illness; then in August, 1902, the Coronation in Westminster Abbey, attended by several of the ruling Chiefs; and, finally, the Durbar held at Delhi on January 1, 1908, to celebrate the Coronation.

The Durbar was an amplified and glorified edition of the Imperial assemblage of 1877. Lord Curzon followed, but greatly improved upon, the lines laid down by Lord Lytton, and that his Durbar was an enormous success was testified by the vast throng that attended it

To the Indian mind there was one 'little rift within the lute,' and that was the difficulty of differentiating between Royalty and Viceroyalty. 'Why did His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, the King-Emperor's brother, take a back seat on the dais? Why did not he hold the Durbar?' This was the popular view of the situation, though the initiated knew that the official programme had been drawn up with the utmost care and after deliberation over every detail; that it had been revised many times and finally approved by His Majesty, under whose mandate the Durbar was held by the Viceroy. His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught attended 'by order of His Majesty' and had no official responsibility: but who of those who were present can forget the Duke's reception by the assembled multitude when, with his Royal Consort, he drove up to take his seat on the daïs and to wait for the Viceroy's arrival? 'There is Royalty' was the feeling of all who rose to greet the King-Emperor's brother.

During the course of Lord Curzon's speech in the Durbar it was part of His Excellency's duty to deliver the message from the King-Emperor to his Indian subjects; this the Viceroy did with much dignity and deepest reverence—standing with bared head as he read the words written by His Majesty. But to some of those who were present it seemed that a great opportunity was lost. 'How much better it would have been,' said they, 'if the Duke of Connaught had read the King's message'—and without doubt, if it could have been so arranged, if the Viceroy, on reaching that point of his address which preceded the King's message, had announced that 'His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught will now deliver to the Durbar the gracious communication of His Majesty the King-Emperor to his Indian subjects,' what an outburst of enthusiasm it would have called forth! The heart of everyone in that splendid assembly would have been touched, and the reason of the Duke's presence on the dais, the object of his deputation by His Majesty, would have been made manifest, not only to the Durbar, but to the whole of India.

The key-note of loyalty in India is devotion to the Crown of England; this has been strikingly illustrated during the Royal incidents to which allusion has been made. It will once more be made manifest when their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales visit India, and of all those who pay their homage there will be no more loyal hearts than the Chiefs of the Indian Empire.

  1. The word 'feudatory' in this application does not imply that there is any real analogy between the relations of the Native States to the British Government and the incidents of ancient feudal tenure. No doubt some of the minor States are grants from the British Crown, to the tenure of which personal duties and military service are attached as incidents and conditions. But the resemblance to the feudal system is at best superficial and unreal. The expression 'feudatory States,' though, perhaps, calculated to mislead, has come into very general use of late years, merely from want of a better or more convenient term to denote the subordination of territorial sovereignties to a common superior, combined with the obligation to discharge certain duties and render certain services to that superior.—Sir Charles Aitchison, 1880.